OGDEN -- Ogden High School senior Jessica Stephens balanced herself ever so carefully on a thin rope elevated a foot or so off the ground Wednesday and held out her hand for sophomore Dallen Whitehead. After the two balanced across the rope, Stephens went back and helped other sophomores cross.
The exercise at the Weber State University ropes course seemed to be a metaphor for the week OHS seniors were having mentoring incoming high school sophomores. Students spent the morning doing team-building activities on the ropes course, many times with the seniors going first to show the younger students how to get it done.
About 35 incoming seniors have been working since February to prepare for the three days of activities to orient new sophomores to high school. OHS teacher Suzie Davis came up with the idea for the older students to help the younger ones after reading studies and seeing students interact, knowing that the younger ones will be more apt to be involved if they see the seniors doing the same thing.
Davis used money from the Small Learning Communities grant to facilitate a longer orientation period this year and next. She hopes the program will continue beyond the grant money.
"A lot of research has shown that (orientation) is more meaningful, the longer it lasts," Davis said of the idea of switching the orientation from its traditional two or three hours to three days.
Students spent Tuesday learning about the school and attending behavior workshops about dating and friendship. On Wednesday students got to use the WSU ropes course, eat lunch on WSU's campus and bowl. Davis wanted to include the WSU portion to show students what college has to offer as well.
Students will spend today getting an in-depth tour of the school to learn where classes are amid the ongoing construction. Later, they will participate in a mock assembly where they will learn school songs and cheers, and get their schedules.
Genevieve Bilanzich, a teacher at OHS, signed up to help with the orientation. She has enjoyed watching the students get to know each other.
"OHS sometimes is lacking in school spirit, and we need to have unity with this new school we are being given by the city," Bilanzich said.
The school is undergoing a major renovation and will be complete next year. Portions of the renovation are already finished.
"OHS is known to be diverse, but doing things like this before school even starts can build school unity," she said as she clapped for a sophomore student who scaled a huge wall with a rope and the help of another teacher and student.
Davis sent letters to all seniors with a 3.25 or higher grade point average last winter to recruit them to be involved with the orientation. She said students need community service hours to earn scholarships, and she thought this was an excellent way to earn hours and do something fun at the same time.
Leaders from all areas of the school, ranging from sports to choir to band, signed up. Bilanzich found it refreshing that all types of student leaders were represented, so all types of incoming sophomores could find someone with whom to relate.
Incoming sophomore Nina Kubricky definitely liked that aspect.
"It has given me a head start, and I can get the general air of the high school -- and I like breathing the air," Kubricky said with a laugh as she sat next to senior Sarah Liljenquist. Liljenquist enjoyed the time to bond with the sophomores and said she hopes they will now feel comfortable enough to ask any of them questions or come to them for help.
Whitehead said the orientation week made him feel much better about starting high school.
"It's good they can tell us about things that are coming up," he said of the seniors and teachers. "I feel pretty confident now."
Davis said students starting high school decide in the first two weeks if they will drop out.
"I hope by doing this before school even starts, it will give them that decision to stay," she said.